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UFC 137 Preview

By on October 28, 2011

Even without the presence of one Georges St. Pierre, the show must go on. And what a show it is! UFC 137 is the rare “stacked” card that doesn’t even have a title fight. Somehow, the unfortunate news that Nick Diaz was being replaced in the title bout with Carlos Condit even worked out in the end- would you rather see Condit-Penn than Diaz-Penn? I know I wouldn’t, though that would have been a fun fight.

Anyway, let’s get right to the main card picks. I’ll level with you here, for me this has been the hardest card of the year to make picks for. I could have gone either way on three of the five fights, and one of the easier picks still has the “uh oh, it’s a Japanese fighter making his UFC debut” x-factor going for it. Yeah, I don’t even want to think about it. Let’s just get the picks out of the way and get to crossing our fingers, alright?

(Note: All rankings listed are those of Fightmania.com.)

Hatsu Hioki (#2 FW) vs. George Roop

The debut of a highly-ranked Japanese fighter in the U.S. is always an exciting, yet dreadful occurrence. You get to find out whether this guy that you’ve ranked fairly highly has earned the spot he’s been given, but then again, it doesn’t always turn out so well. (See: Omigawa, Michihiro)

Hioki will try to do better than some of his predecessors have, including Omigawa, Kid Yamamoto and Shinya Aoki, when he steps into the Octagon to face the tough but relatively unheralded George Roop. While Roop looked awful against Mark Hominick, he has also had impressive wins against Chan Sung Jung and Josh Grispi recently, as well.

Roop brings a strong, if not always pretty, striking style to the matchup. His penchant for landing head kicks in particular keeps foes off balance, and Hioki will be rightfully wary of exchanging for too long while standing. That’s where things become troublesome for Roop, as Hioki will look for, and get, takedowns early and often. From there it’s all about control, ground and pound and probably a submission at some point in a gritty fight.

Prediction: Hioki by submission

Jeff Curran vs. Scott Jorgensen (#5 BW)

I’m still a bit surprised that Curran finds himself in the UFC right now, even though he did win four out of five in the two years since he washed out of the WEC (including a win over TUF 14 cast member Dustin Neace). After all, that streak was precluded by a dreadful WEC run where Curran lost four in a row. Given, all four were against elite fighters (Urijah Faber, Mike Brown, Joseph Benavidez, Takeya Mizugaki), but the message still remains: when Curran faces an elite fighter, he puts up a tough fight but falls short.

I see that happening again here, as Jorgensen is just too good where it counts, namely in striking and wrestling, to lose this one. Curran will be hoping that his great jiu-jitsu comes into play, but why should Jorgensen even take him down? Curran is a capable standup fighter, but Jorgensen figures to be able to out-point him nonetheless, and his power provides a nice trump card. Curran won’t be able to take Jorgensen down, though he’ll try. Jorgensen wins a competitive but clear decision here.

Prediction: Jorgensen by decision

Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic vs. Roy Nelson

This would have been a great fight if Cro Cop was in his prime, right? It still might be pretty decent, but let’s face it: he’s not the same guy and the main problem is in his head, not in his age, legs or anywhere else.

The most important deciding factor of this fight has already been decided, only we don’t know the outcome: does Cro Cop really want to win? If he did, I would pick him in an instant. He has great defensive wrestling and his countering style, the threat of the high kick and his powerful straight left would work wonderfully against Nelson.

The problem is that there is just no assurance of Cro Cop actually having his head together this time around. All the evidence suggests otherwise, in fact. The sight of Cro Cop lumbering around the cage, hesitating to pull the trigger and backing away or circling without throwing counter strikes has become all too familiar to MMA fans over the course of his UFC career.

Nelson is a skilled fighter, but he shouldn’t be able to straight-up outstrike Cro Cop or take him down. He’ll win this one because he wants to win it and because he’s a smart fighter. He’ll do the right things: grinding for takedowns and even if he doesn’t get them, pinning Cro Cop against the cage or getting points for aggression. In fact, any opponent Cro Cop faces these days pretty much gets points for aggression automatically. I don’t think Nelson lands a big shot or anything, but I think Cro Cop will be too trigger shy and his low output will hand Nelson a gift decision.

I’d love to be wrong.

Prediction: Nelson by decision

Cheick Kongo vs. Matt Mitrione

Though Mitrione is just five fights deep into both his MMA and UFC career, he’s also 33 years old, so there should be a lot more urgency to this typical gatekeeper fight than usual for him. Let’s face it, if Mitrione can’t beat Kongo right now, he may never get to the upper echelon of the heavyweight division at all.

It’s a tall order, even though Kongo isn’t considered to be a top ten heavyweight. He’s still good at just about everything, from striking to positioning to wrestling and controlling opponents. He has great recovery and power in his hands, too, as evidenced in his wild scrap with Pat Barry. Mitrione may be a better natural athlete, but Kongo is a much more polished MMA fighter.

Or at least, he was. The fact is, we see a much-improved Mitrione every time he steps in the cage, while Kongo’s evolution has slowed to a much more predictable pace. I think Mitrione’s size and athleticism can help him to avoid takedowns or even being controlled against the cage by Kongo for minutes at a time. He may even be able to plant Kongo on his back with the right timing. The question is: how will the standup go?

It’d be really easy for me to pick Kongo here, because he’s a more skilled striker and has excellent power, to boot. However, Mitrione will successfully work some leg kicks and when Kongo tries to take some rounds with takedowns, Mitrione will really shine with his defense and turn the tide with his strength and athleticism. Mitrione will improve as the fight goes on and win a rather difficult decision that shows he still has some upside left to reveal.

Prediction: Mitrione by decision

Nick Diaz (#4 WW) vs. BJ Penn (#7 WW)

This is a great fight, and would be inspired matchmaking if it weren’t for the fact that it’s only happening because Diaz doesn’t enjoy public speaking engagements. Press conference no-shows aside, these two have turned up the heat a little through what appeared to be a contrived “scuffle” at the weigh-ins that came out of nowhere, but nonetheless may sell a few extra pay-per-views.

Ever since I branded Diaz an elite striker, I’ve been intrigued at the idea of seeing who can finally find some holes in his style. It seems so simple, his tendency to throw tons of mostly straight, half-power punches, but who can deny his effectiveness? The matchup with Penn will provide a great test, as Penn uses fundamentally sound boxing with a bonus in the form of excellent punching power.

Outside of the striking element, great questions remain. Will Penn be able to take Diaz down? Will he even try to? How would the battle on the mat look? Will Penn’s cardio hold up against the relentless pace Diaz likes to enforce? Will Diaz be a noticeably stronger fighter?

I think Penn needs to get takedowns here. Diaz’s striking style practically guarantees that he will have more output than opponents, and it’s hard to beat that in the judges’ eyes unless you land some really high quality shots. Penn could always catch him on the chin, but Diaz’s recovery is excellent and his chin is underrated, too. I don’t see a submission either way, though I think Penn has a nice edge if he gets the top position on the mat, as he’s one of the best out there at advancing position when he puts an opponent on his back.

This will likely be a close, close fight. However, I think Penn fades later on as the pace and Diaz’s reach advantage start to catch up with him. Then, Diaz once again overwhelms an opponent with punches in bunches en route to a surprising TKO stoppage.

Prediction: Diaz by KO/TKO

E-Mail Jon Hartley

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